Jeff Reese shares the story of how his friend Brandon Carlisle and fly-fishing changed his life, and also sheds light on a special program called Project Healing Waters.
Brandon Carlisle was the drummer for Teenage Bottlerocket, an avid fisherman, and a good friend. Quick to smile and crack a joke, he always made everyone around him better. He was one of those friends who would call you out of the blue just to hang out or even just to talk. It’s something that’s fallen by the wayside with social media, texting and their more impersonal communications. I would post a status about wanting to drive an hour to get Mexican food from a restaurant that reminds me of San Diego and five minutes later my phone would be ringing and it would be Brandon asking to be picked up. “I want burritos, dude.” He has twice now completely changed my life. He was a truly kind and happy person and his philosophy on life was, “Just be sweet.” He lived that idea.
On October 25, 2013, my father passed away after a decade long battle with Alzheimer’s. Most of that decade I was filled with guilt for not being able to be with him more in San Diego, but life and my own son that I was raising made that nearly impossible. I was on the precipice of a downward spiral that very well could have killed me. Brandon gave me a gift that not only pulled me out, but that I can share with others. He took me fly-fishing. That first trip was really just me watching him fish, but as a city boy living in Colorado, I didn’t get out in nature enough and that day got me out and experiencing.
Years ago, I worked in a bar called the Surfside 7. It’s a “punk” bar, full of the odd assortment of people that you’d expect in a bar that books bands like A Wilhelm Scream, ALL, Drag the River or The Ataris. I did booking and bounced there for a couple years, right after I lost my job in the automotive industry. It was a fun time, but a pretty self-destructive time too. I was coming out of a ten-year relationship and still had to cohabitate with my ex because there really wasn’t any other option. I was saddled with a house that was too big for our needs and completely out of my price range given the new economic reality I faced. Working with me at that bar was Nick and a regular customer was Jay.
Nick and Jay were part of a group called Pig Farm Ink. It is a difficult thing to explain quickly, but it’s basically a fly-fishing collective that wants to grow the sport among “alternative” groups. There’s also a component of bad tattoos involved, but I’ll leave that up to the reader to research. Check it out on YouTube. It’s really entertaining.
A week after my first trip with Brandon, we (Brandon, Nick, Jay, and I) procured a pair of waders and boots for me and they took me fly-fishing for my first time; it calmed my mind in a way that I rarely experienced outside of moments playing music. When you’re engaged, there’s really nothing you can think about but watching your fly or indicator for the subtlest of indications that you need to set the hook. It is forced meditation. You’re incapable of worrying about bills, family, or other bullshit during those moments. It, in short, gave me the tool I needed to get through the grief I was feeling about my dad.
In the early part of the summer, there’s a film festival that travels around the country called the Fly Fishing Film Tour. One of the films in that festival was about Project Healing Waters. I knew exactly how helpful taking someone fishing could be for dealing with emotional trauma, so I was moved. It took a while for that movement to become action, but eventually I reached out to the national chapter and was referred to Duane, the regional chapter head. We had dinner and discussed me volunteering for their organization. Not long after, I spoke with Jay about the meeting and he recommended that Pig Farm Ink should throw an event on their behalf. With my latest relationship ending and recently finding out my mom’s cancer had returned, I jumped at the prospect of being able to do some good. We contacted local businesses and arranged raffle items, set up one of our Iron Fly events at a local restaurant, and I designed the poster art. I had a trip planned to San Diego for Halloween to see my friends No Knife play at The Casbah and to do some fishing, so, with everything in order, I went on my trip and had a great time.
Two days after I returned, I started seeing cryptic posts on Facebook about Brandon. He was found unconscious and was in a coma at the hospital. Some of us wrongly assumed it was an overdose, something that was later proven to be incorrect. That week was spent supporting friends, sitting in ICU waiting rooms, and grieving for my friend … and working. My job doesn’t allow for taking time off without notice. After my dad died, I was unable to take time off of work until two weeks later. That Friday, it was determined that Brandon was gone and he was taken off of life support. He was 36.
This is the second way he changed my life. Brandon, his twin brother Ray, Miguel, and Kody make up the band Teenage Bottlerocket. They’re a Ramones inspired punk band. They followed their dream with unwavering dedication and achieved a level of success that showed their passion and talents are truly magical. I have been timid about following my dreams. Maybe it was because I had a child at a young age or maybe because I was scared, but I really didn’t try. Losing Brandon forced me to look at my life and what I wanted to do. I had been talking about relocating to Puerto Vallarta in a dreamy kind of vague way to try to pursue a life in fishing somehow. Brandon and his unrelenting pursuit of his dream inspired me to say, “Fuck it,” and go headlong into that dream because life is short and we should make it as fulfilling and happy as possible. I’d much rather be on a beach trying to catch a dorado, than slaving away in 20-degree weather trying to fix equipment.
Two weeks after Brandon passed, the Project Healing Waters event went off without a hitch. The Pig Farm crew came together to support one another and the cause, and we had a great time, raised some money for a great cause, and more importantly raised local awareness of the good things that are being done, and created some relationships that will hopefully expand their reach into the community. I’m thankful for the opportunity to help those who are struggling, even in such a small manner, and eagerly look forward to spring when I can get on the water with these veterans and hopefully do some good. If it wasn’t for Brandon, I’d never have found this outlet. I thank him every day and plan on paying that kindness forward for the rest of my life. Keep an eye out for Pig Farm doing “Fishing with Brandon” events in the future, hopefully.
Thank you, Brandon. I love you, buddy, and we’re still fishing. Just be sweet.